New Delhi: Despite the obvious differences on how to deal with terrorism and on the probe into the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, India and Pakistan on Thursday agreed that progress had been made in their year-old dialogue—resumed after being halted by the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai that left 166 people dead.
Both sides also agreed to keep their dialogue process on track with India’s foreign minister S.M. Krishna expected to travel to Pakistan in the first half of September for discussions with his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar.
“While we might not agree on all issues, we do agree that relations between our two countries have to be normalized.” Indian foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai told reporters at the end of the two-day talks with his Pakistani counterpart Jalil Abbas Jilani. “There is a determination on both sides to take forward our dialogue with an open mind and a constructive spirit.”
Though the way forward was not easy, “the very fact that both sides are determined to sit across the table and resolve all outstanding issues through a dialogue in a peaceful manner is a positive step in the right direction.” Mathai said.
One of the key areas of divergence was terrorism.
“I emphasized that terrorism is the biggest threat to peace and security in the region, and that bringing the guilty to justice in the Mumbai terror attacks would be the biggest confidence building measure of all,” Mathai said.
He was referring to the three-day rampage by 10 Islamist militants belonging to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group who targeted some prominent Mumbai landmarks in the attack that started on the night of 26 November 2008. The Indian government believes that given the scale of the attacks, the militants had the support of some sections of the Pakistani establishment.
India’s arguments have been strengthened by the revelations of Abu Jundal, an alleged handler of the Mumbai attackers, who was arrested last month. India has been pressing Pakistan for a speedy trial of the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks, but Pakistan has repeatedly stated that India has not given adequate evidence to convict anyone. On Thursday, Mathai said he had discussed the information gleaned from Jundal and shared it with Jilani. Jilani, on his part, said he “strongly” rejected “any insinuation of any involvement of any state agency in acts of terrorism in India”.
“We have over the years improved our level of cooperation. And in case there are certain gaps that need to be filled, I think we should fill those gaps in a spirit of cooperation,” Jilani said, adding that terrorism was a common threat facing both India and Pakistan. Mutual recriminations will be counterproductive, he said, adding that India should supply Pakistan with all the evidence it has on the Mumbai attacks and “we will investigate this matter. We will even be willing to offer joint investigation into the whole affair,” Jilani said.
Both the foreign secretaries agreed that trade was an area where considerable progress had been made.
“I think the forward movement on economic and commercial cooperation between India and Pakistan is really a welcome development. And we see it as a win-win proposition for both the sides. Enhanced economic cooperation contributes to economic growth and development in our two countries which is the primary objective on both sides,” Mathai said.
Improved economic ties have been the driver of the current phase of the peace dialogue, with Pakistan announcing that it was looking at normalizing trade with India by expanding the list of items that can be imported from India by more than threefold. Both the countries also opened a new checkpost through which goods can be traded at the Wagah-Attari border crossing.
The Pakistani foreign secretary said he and Mathai had also discussed improving contacts between the two regions of Kashmir that India and Pakistan administer.
“We have agreed to convene a meeting of the joint working group on cross-line of control confidence building measures and to streamline and strengthen travel and trade arrangements,” he said.
In 2008, India and Pakistan operationalized trade between the two regions of Kashmir. But reports say local Kashmiris are seeking a broadening of the trade list, besides demanding adequate banking and communications systems, in the absence of which trade is restricted to basic bartering. Kashmir was also discussed, a joint statement said. The exchange on Kashmir was comprehensive and both the sides agreed to carry on the dialogue to find a peaceful solution to the problem, it said.
“I dont’ see both sides arriving at solutions to the issues that are deadlocked—Kashmir and terrorism," said Kalim Bahadur, former professor of South Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. “But having a dialogue, keeping a dialogue on track is better than having war or tense relations.”
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